Deana Lawson at Kunsthalle Basel: Radiant Blackness

Yesterday, the US artist introduced twenty large-scale photographs, as well as a series of smaller pieces and videos, most of them never exhibited before.

Deana Lawson, installation view, Centropy, Kunsthalle Basel, 2020, view on Niagara Falls, 2018 (left) and Taneisha’s

To demand exactitude in the pursuit of a historical truth is to go where no mind can venture and return whole. This statement could represent a perfect admonishment lying behind the first Institutional solo show in Switzerland of Deana Lawson (1979 Rochester, NY). Her approaches to Photography are, at Kunsthalle Basel, drawing on non-mediated tales deriving from the past – historical tracks underlining compress collective memory – that, especially during these days, are making the bitter truth at least partly digestible. 

Lawson's new series of works was developed in the city of Salvador, in Bahia, one of the Brazilian regions where the rites, gastronomy, religions and music of African origin are most present. The exhibition in Basel, entitled Centropy, presents a selection of twenty large-scale photographs, as well as a series of smaller pieces and videos, most of them never exhibited before. Set on the first floor of Steinenberg’s building, her photos and installations even though they reveal a profound degree of intimacy with their subjects, are meticulously staged and often based on drawings and sketches she makes before the session, and include theatrical objects carefully chosen by the artist. Mostly produced in domestic indoor spaces, these photographs are endowed with an ambiguous atmosphere, between the voyeuristic, the theatrical, the ethnographic and the activist, without being completely subsumed by one of these possible interpretations. In Brazil, in the North-Eastern state of Bahia, she produced a set of photographs that portray people and places marked by the strong presence of cultures deriving from the African diaspora. 

Lawson disseminated the surface of her unedited radiant nudities (for instance in Deleon? Unknown, Latifah’s Wedding and Vera, 2020) with intromissions: photo-combos and marks and tracks and signs to carve the image purity with precise acts of presence. Author’s view is always imprinted, outside and inside the photographical field.

Deana Lawson practice borrows from traditional aesthetics, ranging from photographic and figurative portraiture, social documentary aesthetics, and family album photographs. Lawson is visually inspired by the materiality of black culture and its expression as seen through the body and in domestic environments. 

Deana Lawson, installation view, Centropy, Kunsthalle Basel, 2020, view on House of My Deceased Lover, 2019
Deana Lawson, House of My Deceased Lover, 2019, Centropy, Kunsthalle Basel, 2020

Lace curtains, artificial nails, blemished skin, coloured weave, and plastic couch covers are examples of visual material that Lawson identifies and heightens in her pictures. Careful attention is given to lighting and pose, both formal constructs used to transform, inform, and intensify representations of power and liberation through the personal and intimate space. 

She has, since 2013 photographed in DR Congo, Haiti, Jamaica, and Ethiopia, and Brazil, among others. Her work has been included in exhibitions at several institutions, including Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Art Institute of Chicago, Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, MoMA PS1, Studio Museum, and KIT Museum in Dusseldorf.

As part of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo’s original curatorial project, Centropy would be presented at the Bienal Pavilion, in São Paulo, at the beginning of October 2020. With the changes enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic, the curatorial project will now incorporate a large number of the photographs from Centropy into the group show scheduled to take place in São Paulo between 3 October to 13 December 2020.

Deana Lawson: Centropy
Exhibition dates:
From June 9 to October 11, 2020
Coproduced with:
Fundação Bienal de São Paulo as part of the 34th Bienal de São Paulo
Kunsthalle Basel
Steinenberg 7, CH-4051 Basel

Latest on Art

Latest on Domus

Read more
China Germany India Mexico, Central America and Caribbean Sri Lanka Korea icon-camera close icon-comments icon-down-sm icon-download icon-facebook icon-heart icon-heart icon-next-sm icon-next icon-pinterest icon-play icon-plus icon-prev-sm icon-prev Search icon-twitter icon-views icon-instagram